In the shadow of the <i>Moon</i> ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the shadow of the Moon

Source Code
My rating:

Duncan Jones is the man, in more ways than one. There's been any number of hot young directors who made big debuts with highly acclaimed, quirky indie genre films, only to have that initial splash fizzle out. Jones' Moon came out only in 2009, but since then he's been in talks to helm big-budget franchise entries like the Superman reboot and the Wolverine sequel, which means he's riding on a pretty big wave right now. Good for him; I really liked Moon. Then again, what really separates the genuine talents from the flashes-in-the-pan is usually the second film.

And Jones' is pretty good too - but not as good as his first.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up one morning on a commuter train bound for Chicago, disoriented and confused. A fellow passenger named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) calls him Sean, but his last memory is of flying helicopter missions in Afghanistan. Before he can figure out what's happening, the train explodes - and he wakes up in a capsule, speaking to a Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) on a video screen. He is in fact part of a mission to prevent an imminent terrorist bombing of Chicago by living out the last 8 minutes of the life of Sean Fentress, a passenger on board the train whose bombing is the precursor to a larger and deadlier attack. Goodwin and her superior, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), send Stevens back into the "source code", reliving the same 8 minutes over and over again, to try and discover the bomber's identity. But even as he starts to fall for Christina - knowing that she and everyone else on the train is already dead, and there's no way to save her - he begins to suspect that Goodwin and Rutledge aren't telling him everything they know.

I was quite pleased to see people talking animatedly about the movie as we left the cinema. The last time this happened was with Inception, and this film is a similarly smart, complex and mind-bending sci-fi thriller. Describing it as Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap meets Deja Vu is right, and that's not pejorative; Ben Ripley's screenplay may have mixed and matched elements from all these, but the resulting concoction is pretty unique. So no carping about it being a ripoff! (Okay, I do a fair bit of "it's a ripoff!" accusation-throwing myself. But there's a difference between similar premises than can develop in wholly different directions, and similar plots that can only go through the same motions.)

There are two mysteries at work in this movie: one being who the bomber is, and the other being what's really going on with this super-secret military "quantum parabolic calculus" project. And for the most part, both are handled in exactly the way a good mystery should be - by keeping the audience curious, and slowly doling out answers to their questions whilst occasionally blindsiding them with a red herring or two. Since we return several times to the same 8-minute stretch on board the train, minor incidents take on greater significance, and it's fun to watch Stevens interrogate suspects with what he knows (or thinks he knows) about them from previous go-arounds.

I said "for the most part", because I do wish it was better in many ways. The plot isn't as tightly-scripted as you'd expect, and certain parts are left unexplained - for instance, the bit where Stevens' capsule appears damaged - and the impression you're left with is that they were simply arbitrary. A film like this leads you to think that everything is significant in some way, and while Ripley's script is clever, it's not quite as clever as it appears. For a thriller, it's somewhat lacking in good-old-fashioned nail-biting suspense; Jones' direction is smart and assured, but it isn't too far of a departure from the antiseptic tone of Moon. And then there's its ending, which several critics and viewers have decried. I didn't really mind it, but it was yet another instance of it trying to be cleverer than it was.

But a lot of its success had to do with its acting. Jake Gyllenhaal was perfectly competent, which sounds like damning with faint praise - but really, his role is pretty much to react to what's going on, and he succeeds in putting us in his bewildered shoes and getting us to root for him. Jeffrey Wright is doing something odd with his Dr. Rutledge that I can't really describe; all I can say is that its affectedness is a tad distracting. It's the women who do the heavy lifting here. Vera Farmiga's coolly professional Goodwin, whose humanity slowly thaws her icy demeanour, is a large part of what makes the "what's the Source Code really about" mystery work. And Michelle Monaghan is just adorable, which is crucial to giving a heart and soul to an otherwise cold sci-fi thriller. It's criminal that she isn't getting bigger roles.

I have to admit I was expecting more out of it than I got. I really like Duncan Jones, I hope he never stops getting showered with offers - but I also hope this movie isn't a sign that he's less comfortable with big-budget, fast-paced storytelling than he is with meditative, almost-arty films like Moon. And I have to say, what I like most about it more than anything due to the movie itself, is the fact that people seem to like it; people like talking and thinking about it, which hopefully means people like movies that make them think. So by all means, go watch it, especially if you liked Inception. It may not be as good, but intelligent sci-fi is exactly the kind of thing that needs mass support.

NEXT REVIEW: Dilarang Masuk
Expectations: well, the trailer looked good...